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Bow Royal Mail postal workers join national strikes over pay and conditions

Drastic cuts to sick leave pay and plans to make Sunday a working day with no extra pay, Bow Royal Mail staff take part in nationwide strikes.

Cutting sick leave pay from six months to three days is just one of the reasons why thirty Royal Mail Bow Delivery Office postal workers are undertaking a series of strikes this autumn, in line with around 115,000 fellow postal workers across the country.

For Bow’s postal staff, they take it in turns to man the picket line, holding up banners and keeping spirits up with regular mugs of tea and coffee and hot food on the go, with the waft of grilled halloumi, burgers, and chicken wings coming from the small green BBQ placed on the forecourt of the delivery office. The staff is buoyed by supportive beeps and toots from taxi and van drivers, and commuters giving their posties a wave.

At the picket line is Bow resident Sahir Saeed, a postal worker who’s been at the Bow office for 25 years and who is the office’s Communications Workers Union representative. Saeed said that Royal Mail has delivered ‘the biggest attack on our terms and conditions we’ve ever known.’

The postal workers are striking after an imposed 2% pay rise. They have also been offered an additional 3.5% pay rise which they will only receive if they accept the new terms and conditions. 

The proposed terms include: adding in Sundays as a full-working day (currently, they are voluntary working days and only deliver parcels) with no extra pay; moving the shift start times from 5.30am to 8.30am and shift end times from 1pm to 4pm; new recruits to receive 20% less pay than current staff; and, reducing staff sick pay leave from six months to three days. 

Saeed said it will hit those with family and caring commitments particularly hard, including his own family: ‘My partner takes the kids to school and I can pick them up from school but with the new timings proposed, we couldn’t do that. It’s tough, we might have to pay for child care.’

Saeed also questioned the 2% pay rise: ‘With the cost of living crisis, and everything going up, are we only worthy of a 2% pay rise?’ Currently, UK inflation is around 10%.

Saeed’s colleague, 59-year-old John Warren originally from Poplar and who’s been a Bow postman for 41 years, shared his sentiments: ‘This is the worst fight we’ve been in. Simon Thompson’s [Royal Mail’s CEO] got his own agenda and he doesn’t want to listen.

‘I love working for Royal Mail, I even now love working for it, but it upsets me the way Simon Thompson is treating us as staff.’

Alongside pay and conditions, there is also a wider concern amongst postal workers on a threat from Thompson’s boardroom to split up Royal Mail.

Royal Mail has two arms; GLS, an Amsterdam-based logistic company that deals with international parcels and freight, and Royal Mail which deals with letters and parcels within the UK. GLS has recorded high profits this year, whereas Royal Mail has recorded losses. A recent comment from Keith Williams, Royal Mail’s chair, stated that he will ‘look for significant operational change or split the company’. 

Operational change or split, either way workers are concerned that both acts could leave Royal Mail, and its workers, vulnerable to being turned into a gig economy style company, similar to the likes to Hermes or Evri. This, in turn, could potentially affect Royal Mail’s universal service obligation (USO), a requirement to deliver to all 32 million addresses in the UK at a uniform price, and result in fewer deliveries to people’s homes. 

While some may oppose the strikes, Saeed said: ‘It is about pay and conditions but now we are also striking to protect the Royal Mail and its service for our customers.’

He also said he understands the concern some people may have about the impact strikes might have in the run-up to the festive season but that strikes are due to end by Friday 2 December. 

Bow’s postal staff is taking part in further national strikes on Saturday 12 November and Monday 14 November. The postal staff, along with its colleagues across the country, was due to strike on Friday 4 November but Royal Mail’s legal team challenged this. Every time a strike occurs by an organisation’s employees, the organisation has to declare the number of those striking by law. Royal Mail’s different departments were going to strike on different days this week (known as functional strikes), but there was a discrepancy between the number of strikers and the number of employees due to strike. As such, to avoid a legal challenge, it was decided that all of Royal Mail’s departments would strike together (known as all-out strikes), resuming protesting in a couple of weeks’ time, on Saturday 12 November.

If you read this article, then read our piece on the Canal Club Garden saved from demolition.

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